Case Study: HAPPEN project – Improving the health, wellbeing and education outcomes of Swansea’s primary school children

A Swansea University based project aimed at improving the health, wellbeing and education outcomes of primary school children in Swansea is growing from strength to strength.

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Established in April 2015, HAPPEN, the Health and Attainment of Pupils involved in a Primary Education Network, funded by the National Centre for Population Health and Wellbeing Research and the Swansea Healthy City Programme, currently involves more than 80 health, research and education professionals.

HAPPEN focuses on children aged 9-11 years, completing health and wellbeing assessments as part of the Swan-Linx project, whereby data is collected on body mass index (BMI), fitness, nutrition, physical activity, sleep, wellbeing, concentration, and child recommendations on improving health in their area.  By gathering and analysing data, HAPPEN is providing evidence to primary schools in Swansea to help them tackle the challenges identified.

Coordinator of the HAPPEN project Emily Marchant, a PhD researcher based in the Data Science Building, Swansea University Medical School, said: “Good health and wellbeing in children is very important to their future achievements, employment opportunities, and their subsequent health and wellbeing as adults. It is seen that schools are ideally positioned to drive change and help to reduce inequalities in health and education.

“But with a greater focus being placed on literacy and numeracy in the classroom by educational inspectors, the health and wellbeing needs of the children is not being met, and schools are feeling isolated when attempting to address these shortfalls.

“To overcome this, a partnership approach was needed, bringing together a range of professionals from various fields to address the health needs as well as the educational outcomes and needs of the children – and HAPPEN was established.”

Data was gathered from 1,500 children in the Swansea area. Working with the Swansea University based Secure Anonymised Information Linkage – or SAIL – Databank, which removes the identities of participants in the study to protect their privacy and to comply with all data protection rules, researchers from the Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research, also at Swansea University, were able to link and study data about children’s behaviour with regard to their health, health records (including GP records, and hospital admissions) and education data (including educational attainment Key Stage 1 and 2).

Researchers then used this data to provide feedback reports to the schools and organisations, which comprised dieticians, sport development, local charities, and public health professionals.

The reports were written in line with the curriculum framework to ensure the children’s learning is enhanced, and to enable schools to see how they compare with other schools in their county to identify areas of need, for example; high percentages of children not eating breakfast.

On-going support and advice is provided to the schools via the HAPPEN website, which gives teaching staff access to resources which they can use to improve health and wellbeing interventions and ensure curriculum needs are also being met.

“The use of consultation, engagement and collaboration has enabled the network’s success to date and the number of schools joining the network is continuing to grow,” said Emily Marchant.

“The partnership between schools, health professionals and Farr Institute researchers provides evidence that helps tackle child health, wellbeing and education.”

One Swansea primary school deputy head teacher said: “When receiving our data pack, we were concerned to discover that in Years 5 and 6, approximately a third of our children were overweight.  Additionally, 38% of children reported they were not happy with their fitness.

“Despite the school placing great emphasis on health, fitness and wellbeing, we clearly needed to increase the profile by putting it into our School Development Plan.

“We have increased the opportunities that children receive. We have reflected on our PE lessons and plan to bring more active elements to other lessons.

“Finally, children are managing their own fitness, through working with partners to set personal goals.”

For more information about the HAPPEN project visit www.happenswansea.co.uk, follow HAPPEN on Twitter @happenswansea, or contact Emily Marchant, email: E.K.Marchant@Swansea.ac.uk.